Posted by: beyonddinner | February 14, 2009

Ever higher yields

I recently saw an article in Wired that I found very disturbing, profiling a farmer that seeks to break records for yields from soybean and corn crops. Where the average U.S. soybean farmer yields about 40 bushels to the acre, Kip Cullers can get up to 155 bushels per acre on small test plots. How does he do this? Intensive use of pesticides and testing out new types of seeds. He is essentially a promoter of big agribusiness – particularly Pioneer Hybrid.

What I found really disturbing about the article was the incredible one-sidedness of it. The tone was of awe for what this farmer is accomplishing, but there wasn’t much responsible journalism going on. Only one token question was asked about if he had qualms about using genetically modified seeds – and the answer was “No.” That’s it! There’s no mention about what happens to the soil and environment when you use so much pesticide, or if the additional cost of the chemicals offsets any of the benefit of the yield. This is science at its most unexamined – no regard for consequences at all.

It’s sad to read how these farmers and the author of this article have swallowed agribusiness’ propaganda about how they are trying to solve the world’s food problems by improving yields. Once we all realize that by sending 80% of soybean crops and 50% of corn crops worldwide to feed animals that feed humans – maybe we could figure out a different way to get humans their calories in a much more efficient way. Really, these companies are just out for the money and seeking ways to control the farmer by selling seeds that only they sell, that work in conjunction with pesticides that only they provide. It’s quite a racket. The worst part is that it produces a product that is bad for our health and destroys the environment.

Kip Cullers, the superhero farmer of the story, sounds like an incredibly energetic and intense guy. I found myself wondering how great it would be if he turned from the side of agribusiness and applied that energy to sustainable practices. It sounds like he has a lot of people that look up to him – what an effect he could have!


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